Friday, September 30, 2011

How'd my summer go?

OK, I know, it's been a while since I've posted. And after my high school friend, Laura, sent me a birthday card telling me my blog was how she keeps up with my life! (Hi, Laura!)

My excuses... work has been busy, I've been getting used to apartment living, blah blah blah. (Meaning: no good excuse).

So, time to fill you in on my summer:

Still savoring? Not as much: OK, I've fallen off the wagon a few times from my "savor the sweets" diet, and have times when I indulge my sweet tooth more than I should. But still, at a doctor's appointment this week I weighed 153 lbs, down from 160 at my physical in April, so I'm making progress.

Green apartment living

We moved in May from a house to an apartment, and not long after our move, I shared about some of the "green" advantages I anticipated to apartment living. After 3 months, here is my report:

Growing our own food--a challenge: Because we moved too late in the season to start planting seeds, I bought starts. Our apartment is one of a series of buildings that surrounds a courtyard filled with large trees. Our small balcony overlooks the courtyard, and thus gets virtually no direct sunlight.

The starts I bought were for plants that can do well with little sunlight--cilantro, basil, mint, and lettuce. The basil and mint made it through the summer (but weakly), and the cilantro and lettuce didn't make it at all. I have a lot to learn about growing food in our current circumstances, so I'll try again next summer.

Composting--bokashi on the cheap: I had long heard about bokashi apartment composting. A bokashi system is an anaerobic composter--basically a bucket with a drip spout that allows you to drain off the "tea" (the liquid residue of your compost, which can be diluted and used as a fertilizer). Bokashi is a mixture of bran, molasses and microorganisms that, when added to your food scraps, accelerates their decomposition through a fermentation process. It's ideal for apartment-dwellers, because it's compact, it's an anaerobic system so fruit flies and other pests can't get into it, and because of the fermentation process, it doesn't smell. (Well, yes it does. But it smells like something fermented, rather than like rotten garbage).

A bokashi system can be expensive (about $120). But a gallon of the bokashi mixture is pretty cheap (about $15) and it lasts several months. As some experienced composters have pointed out, a bokashi system is just a bucket with a secure-fitting lid. Thus, you can do bokashi as long as you have such a bucket. I use a large container that once held ice cream served at a church social. You can also ask fast food places if you can have their left-over pickle buckets. If you're really ambitious, you can drill a hole in the bucket and add a drip spout to catch the "tea." But if you are like me, you can just add your food scraps to a Bio-bag in the bucket, and the bokashi "tea" will seep through the bag and pool in the bottom.

The challenge of using bokashi is that once the food scraps are well-fermented, you need to bury them. Once buried, the scraps decompose rapidly and supposedly make incredibly rich compost. I bought a large garbage can for my balcony, filled it with potting soil, and I'm adding the bokashi'd scraps periodically. I'm not sure how well this will work. My plan is to take a sample of the soil to the WA State Master Gardeners in the spring and have them test it to see how healthy it is. Stay tuned.

Transportation--still working on it: I haven't walked or used public transportation as often as I'd planned. Mostly, it's a function of time, since it's faster to drive. In addition, because my daughter's daycare teacher asked to participate in our summer staycation adventures, I often needed to drive because I was transporting other children besides my daughter. However, we have walked or taken the bus on several occasions, so I am patting myself on the back as an encouragement to keep it up and do more.

I haven't learned as much about my car as I had planned. I have been tracking my mileage, and I have made a few changes to improve gas mileage. I removed the luggage racks from my vehicle to reduce the weight, I am keeping my tires inflated, and I learned that the click my gas cap makes when I turned it--which I always thought was a warning not to turn it anymore--is actually a good thing. I should keep turning the gas cap until I hear it click three times, and then I know that it is fully closed and unlikely to evaporate gas.

But my biggest challenge is staying within the speed limit of 60-65 on the highway. The average speed of those around me is 70, and I'm often following the crowd (usually to make sure I get to work on time). I have found that my gas mileage can go from a low of 20 miles per gallon to a high of 35 mpg, all depending on my speed. This, and walking or taking public transportation more often, are often functions of my own discipline. If I plan my time better, I can improve in both areas.

Small green steps: I wrote about my switch to a Moon Cup back in June. I still love it, and the switch came just in time. In June, I also had an IUD inserted, which increases menstrual flow.

Otherwise, I've made two changes this summer:

Reusable straws: I purchased stainless steel drinking straws, which my daughter and I both love! They're easy to clean with the straw brush that comes with them, and neither of us have experienced the complaints some have of funny taste or getting too cold. (Those concerns, if you have them, can be alleviated with glass drinking straws. I didn't want to go that route because I was concerned that my daughter might break them, even though they're made from very strong glass).

Homemade air freshener spray: I have used natural air freshener sprays for some time, but I read recently that those may still contain phthalates. So when my last bottle of Air Therapy ran out, I decided to try making my own. Here are two recipes I use. They're more mild than commercial air fresheners, but they smell good and do the job:

Peppermint/orange air freshener: add 1/2 cup of filtered water, 1/2 cup of vodka, and 20 drops each of peppermint oil and sweet orange oil to a spray bottle. Shake before each use.

Cinnamon/vanilla air freshener: Add 1 cup filtered water, 1 cup white vinegar, 2 cinnamon sticks and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to a pot. Bring to boil, and then reduce to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Allow to cool, and then add to a spray bottle. Shake before each use.

The biggest focus of my summer has been my daughter. In another post, I'll share about our summer adventures, and my summer reading about parenting and teaching.